Today’s article is about how to learn who you buyers are, how they make purchase decisions, and why they will choose you over your competitors. To follow along, download our 10th annual workbook, How to Make Your Number in 2017 and turn to the buyer research phase on pages 168 – 171 of the PDF.
Determining the real reasons for winning and losing starts with buyer research. An expert on this topic is Ann Fellman, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Code42. A leader in cloud-based endpoint data security and recovery solutions, Code42 provides solutions for more than 39,000 organizations worldwide.
In this article, Ann unmasks the B2B buyer and turns conventional wisdom about logic vs. emotion on its head. My interview outlines the factors B2B buyers consider and demonstrates how to become aware of these factors. Ann distinguishes between tables stakes and true emotional drivers. Table stakes for Code42 customers include security, ease of use, performance and stability. Ann describes the emotional drivers, which are very often the key drivers, which are the quality of your people, your support, previous experience, and peer references.
Why this topic? Buyers have changed their preferences and continue to do so. They want to engage with your company in new ways and through new channels. Brand preference erodes quickly and loyalty is harder and harder to obtain and retain. Revenue growth depends on your ability to know your buyers better than your competitors, and better than themselves.
Below you will find the questions and answers from my interview with Ann. You will find the Code42 use case to clarify how to apply the action steps that Ann demonstrates.
Who are your buyers and how did you discover this?
Most often we’re selling to and working with IT administrators, IT managers and directors and VPs. Those that handle the day-to-day management of these laptops and desktops in the organization. At times, depending on the strategic nature of the initiative or the problem that they’re looking to go solve it can roll up to the CIO.
The other piece, again, we solve a number of different data security and protection issues. Oftentimes we will find ourselves always starting primary buyers in the IT organization, but we’ll bridge into an information security, especially with something like ransomware, or we bridge into the legal department. Again, the whole world, because we’re dealing with software that needs to get implemented on these laptops and desktops, it’s with IT. That’s who our buyers are.
How we discovered this was that we did it in phases. I’ve been with the company for quite some time. Early on it was through tribal knowledge, right? Talking to different people in the company, then validating through your sales force automation platform that you might be using or CRM system.
Most importantly finding out and how you discover who your buyers are is through win loss calls that the marketing organization would conduct. It’s a key piece, especially that win loss call, about making personal connections with those buyers and learning about them.
Yes. The move from tribal knowledge to win loss calls, that’s an interesting move. We deal with clients all the time that are still in the tribal knowledge stage, if you will. We advocate what you’re doing, which is to get a little bit more systematic or programmatic at it.
What was the trigger event that progressed you from this tribal knowledge approach to maybe a more formal approach like win loss calls?
Frankly, it was making the time. I had to do some internal education, talking with sales teams or talking with those that had the relationship with the buyer, but first and foremost it was making the time. There’s nothing more valuable than talking to your customers and prospects.
First, educating internally, saying, “Hey, win loss calls. It’s not about evaluating how good our salespeople are. It’s about identifying those key drivers, key decision-making criteria, emotional components of why they chose the solution that they did. It’s just making the time.”
Win loss calls, they’re nothing to be afraid of. Customers, prospects, those folks are happy to give feedback because you know what? It’s very rare that a vendor will reach out to them and say, “Hey, I just want to talk to you about how we did.”
In terms of what’s driving you. Making that personal connection with a customer, a brand-new customer, or maybe in the future they chose a different vendor but maybe in the future they might be a customer. Continuing that relationship, it’s a lot of fun. It’s not a scary thing, but you do need to make the time for it.
Yes. I think that’s key. We’re all time-starved, but that’s an important activity, so your advice is well taken. Make the time for it.
What factors do your buyers consider before they buy your product and service? How did you become aware of these?
Well, from a factor standpoint of what our buyers are considering, there’s three that I’ll call our table stakes. I’s more about your solution and what you’re providing. In our world, security is first and foremost. They’re looking at things. Can it be deployed in a way that meets our unique security requirements? Can it fit uniquely within our infrastructure?
Second, they say, “Well, how easy is this thing?” The last thing, and this is an emotional component for the buyer too, is this going to double my workload or is this going to make my life a lot easier? How easy is it to deploy? How long will it take to deploy? How easy is it to manage? A lot of times our buyer’s also a user from the IT administration standpoint. You want to make sure that you’re not creating more work for them.
That third table stakes piece that they look at is the performance of the product, right? How stable is it? Again, it’s running on the laptop and desktop. You want to make sure that it’s safe, out of the way of the user, that it’s not negatively impacting the performance of those machines that those knowledge workers are using. They look at that performance and reliability of the product.
What’s more interesting, and what I’d call your attention to, are two key pieces from an influence or factors that they consider before they buy. People and support, because at the end of the day it’s how good are you after they buy? Our buyers continually check the depths and the quality of our documentation. They’ll run a free trial or a proof of concept, and then we pride ourselves on our customer support or what we call customer champions.
We encourage them to conduct a support call. We want them to do a test run with our support organization to see what that’s like because that’s an important component is after they’ve made the purchase, what’s my life going to be like?
Then secondarily is previous experience. This is becoming more and more so. Have they used this product at a previous company? Or peer recommendations, right? Who else in their network, their business network, has used the product before? That’s an important factor. Time and time again when I do those win loss calls it’s the advice of their peers.
That’s just a fantastic answer. I love how you distinguished there between kind of table stakes, so security, ease of use, and performance and stability. Then you get more into kind of the emotional drivers, which are very often the key drivers, which are the quality of your people, your support, previous experience, and peer references.
What is your buyer’s journey and how did you learn that?
Well, our buyer’s journey, again, buyer journey being mapping the buyer and their decision-making process. In our world of B2B software, again, we’re predominantly selling to IT, and we’ve defined it as it consists of four stages, four key decision-making stages in that buyer journey.
Number one is that awareness stage. This is where they’re trying to understand more about a business need or a problem that they’re trying to go solve. The driver for that can be something internal or external. For example, an internal would be they are establishing a new process or there’s a new strategic initiative. Something external would be new regulations that they’re facing or a change in the market. They’re aware and they realize that there is some business need or a challenge that they need to go solve. They’re quantifying, qualifying the fact that they’ve got this need and realize that a change needs to be made.
I think what’s important when you’re connecting with folks at this stage is that you want to make sure that they’re questioning their status quo. In other words, create that sense of urgency of what they’re doing today, or frankly, what they’re not doing is not going to solve their problem. That’s the first phase.
The second phase is research. This is, again, that’s that exploration phase. This is the what are the ways that we could address the business need or the problem? This is about the best strategy to solve that challenge, find the best route. Do we do it internally, do we build it, or do we find an outside resource?
The third phase that we see is that then they get into the evaluation phase. This is where they’ve committed to a solution approach. They’re identifying their short list of vendors. This is where they really get in and start to really engage with our sales. They want to kick the tires. They want to explore how it’s going to fit in their environment. This is where we often see the proof of concept idea start in this stage.
Then the outcome of that pushes you into the fourth phase, which is selection. In our fourth phase, this is when they’re doing the reference calls, and finalizing the ROI or the business case justifications, getting final approval, and then engaging with legal procurement, IT, finance.
What’s kind of interesting is that in the industry generally you hear about three phases of the buyer journey, education, consideration, and decision. We’ve broken it down into four. I mean, we see four phases. We see the decision phase as really two elements broken into two key pieces for each stage.
We’ve got unique information requirements, unique stakeholders. In that fourth phase, that selection where they’re doing the ROI, the business case justification, that procurement can be a derailed. We really needed to break it into four different phases. That’s kind of how we look at the buyer journey from our standpoint.
Does the buyer’s journey vary in length by variables such as the market segment or the persona you’re selling to, the product you’re selling, or maybe even the sales channel you’re using? If it does, how does it vary and why does it vary?
Your answer is absolutely. Buyer journeys do vary by persona I think, and problem orientation, by market segment, by size of a company. A lot of folks believe that a buyer journey is very, very linear from left to right, but we see that buyer journeys are chaotic and unpredictable.
What we do is really kind of defining, trying to make that journey, that process, a little bit less chaotic. We start with the persona. We want to define the journey as to how personas come in and out. We take the problem and then we look at, okay, well, who are our buyer personas that are going to be involved in finding a solution to the problem?
That’s where what we’ve done is really simplify by taking the problem and then understanding who’s going to be looking at that problem at different stages. We look at it from how they come in and out of that buyer journey process. We look at it from these two angles to kind of smooth things out.
I think the other key piece that we do is try to keep it simple in terms of focusing on just the key people in the journey. We’re not targeting or messaging to ancillary departments, like marketing and sales. We really try to stay focused on the primary buyers. That’ll simplify. They absolutely vary by length. It really depends on the scope and the size of the problem that they’re looking to go solve for. How broad is the solution going to impact the organization?
Then, size of company in terms of length of time. I mean, a company in what we call our mid-market segment is 100 employees to 2,500. They can move a lot faster and make decisions a lot faster. Where you’re getting into the large organizations, you’ve got big committees that are involved in that. That can take anywhere from … I’ve seen it … Journeys that start two years back, there’s a gap, and then they kind of come back around. I see things sometimes even taking up to 18 months or longer. It absolutely varies. Start out simple.
Okay, next question here, which is an interesting one, one that we’re seeing stump a lot of organizations. How you answer this question has a big implication on the marketing and the sales team. Is a decision to buy your product made by a centralized buying decision team or is it made by a decentralized fragmented buying decision team? What is it in your case, Ann?
Yes, to both. Again, it varies on size. Let’s just, again, trying to keep things simple. In our mid-market, it’s a centralized. It’s a much smaller group. It’s a handful of folks in the IT world that are making the decision.
In a large enterprise, I’ll call it, it’s centralized but decentralized, so that’s where that chaotic nature comes in where you’ve got a large committee but, again, predominantly ruled by IT but other groups such as information security, legal procurement, have a much stronger influence and are much more involved in the buying process. Again, they come in and out at varying stages throughout that process. Again, start by the size of company and then kind of we go in from there.
A simple example would be office supplies, right? That’s probably just procurement. That’s probably a very straight-forward buying process. In our world for a software application it can be rolled out to the entire business. You’ve got a lot more people involved in that decision-making process, so it creates a lot of complexity and you start to branch out into other areas. There’s the complexity piece.
The last piece is what’s the maturity of the market segment that you’re in? Are you a breakthrough product that’s going to completely disrupt the market, are you improving on what’s there, or are you an established market where it’s straightforward?
Those are different elements that you want to be looking at as you map out your buyer journey. I’d say don’t try to boil the ocean. Keep it simple the first time that you go through this and look at by size of company or the nature of the problem that you’re solving.
If you were hired by a new company tomorrow with a mandate to do what we did today, which is learn who the buyers are, how they make purchase decisions, and why they will choose you over your competitors, what would you do and in what order?
Number one, find out if your organization is already systematically gathering the data about your buyers and who they are. Through what kind of information are you gathering through sales force automation? For example, when you win a deal or lose a deal are there drop-down menus as to why? That’s one element, or if you’re surveying your customers or your prospects on a regular basis. If not, figure out what you need to do to get there.
Secondarily, and kind of running right in parallel, get out of the office. Go connect with your customers. Go do those win loss calls and customer visits, especially the new customers, especially those who haven’t deployed yet. That’s a perfect time because the buying process is fresh in their mind.
Then, loss calls. Don’t be afraid to go do the loss calls. They’re so important. Learn where you fell flat. The loss calls frankly are the most valuable calls that you could possibly do, so go look for the loss calls.
Evaluate your buyer research at a deeper level by downloading our 10th annual workbook, How to Make Your Number in 2017. Turn to pages 168 – 171 of the PDF and review the buyer research phase of the Marketing Strategy. To request a workshop with SBI’s marketing practice leader simply sign up for a MySBI account and check the box in your preferences to request a workshop.